On the Transition
It has been twelve dizzying years.
With this special issue on Cosmopolitanism, I conclude my editorship of Public Culture.
This special issue gives me particular pleasure since in part it features essays by some of my colleagues from the Committee on Southern Asian Studies (COSAS) at the University of Chicago. I am grateful to COSAS for its support both for the May 1999 conference on Cosmopolitanism and for this special issue. Thus Public Culture comes full circle and returns to the geopolitical site of its founding. What inspired the founding of Public Culture? Liberalization in India is part of the history. The urge to deexceptionalize India (at least in the Western academy) and to deparochialize British cultural studies (then crossing the Atlantic as “transnational cultural studies”) is another. The desire to conceptualize the contemporary (as Asian, African, and Latin as well as American and European) and to theorize the emergent (as complexly and unevenly global) were other interrelated dimensions. We were bold enough to think we could refuse disciplinary boundaries by blurring them. In l988, we understood that the nation-state no longer exclusively contained many of its traditional prerogatives in regard to finance, territories, borders, and citizenship. In this sense Public Culture was a naming as well as a mapping project—naming spaces, dimensions, and interrelations in order to give them critical publicity. We sought to understand other modernities by tracking the circulation of cosmopolitan cultural forms. We located its global problematic in the sphere of the public rather than that of the nation. This project of naming sought to put pressure on the assumptions that many held (and hold) about the nation as the primary and irreducible site of Politics with a capital P. It also sought to recognize the relocation of the nation in relation to changes in the circulation and form of global capital. Thus the history of Public Culture consists of these and other conjunctures and fragments. It is a nonlinear history that is part personal, part intellectual, and part political.
Public Culture required more stamina than I had originally imagined. But that has brought its own satisfactions. And I count myself privileged to have had the opportunity and the space in which to realize a vision.
In the initial instance, Public Culture was conceived as an intervention, which by definition meant that the journal would have a shelf life of perhaps ten years. Interventions (like the independence movements of “new” nations or the “new” social movements of the queer or disability nation) by definition need not continue into an openended future. Any such intervention seeks to change the landscape, to create new interrelated fields of knowledge or practice. If such change is accomplished the intervention (qua intervention) ought to become redundant. To continue, the intervention must be transformed into something else just as the independence movement at its moment of success must become a postcolonial governance project. Or the queer or disability nation, initially an ethical critique, must make a choice to either become communities that move from the edge to be “normalized” with a difference, or to continue to find ways to put pressure on the normal itself. Such repositionings transform at least the foundations of thought, if not the nature of structures and practices.
I have gradually come to see that interventions as knowledge-building projects require deepening. Transformative histories demand a basis in the work of intellectuals who provide the thought experiments that open the way for newness. That takes time as well as space. Thus on behalf of the Society for Transnational Cultural Studies, the sponsor of Public Culture, I am pleased to announce that Public Culture’s new editor is Elizabeth A. Povinelli and its coeditor is Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar. I am confident that together they will bring their own vital and energetic vision to bear on the journal. A time comes when a publication should benefit from a change in leadership. Under Beth and Dilip’s leadership Public Culture will retain its commitment to shape an understanding of the world that reads global configurations by situating public problematics in the local specificities of place.
Public Culture is not only a publication, it has been a project. A project can never be completed; it can only be resumed with a difference. In the struggle to conceptualize the emergent, for example, Public Culture has yet to resolve what a Public Culture history would be. The few historical essays in Public Culture have been essays about history as scene or site in other sorts of situated discourses. The contrast here is between history as the modern as opposed to the history of the modern. Other ways to open the history question as a Public Culture question would be to focus on earlier forms and expressions of transnationalism or globalization or on debates about history in the public present or debates about “public history.” To put it another way, how does one bring the contemporary into consociation with the historical? Given the paucity of historical essays in Public Culture, the journal has run the risk of positioning the second half of the twentieth century as apocalyptically (and perhaps immaculately) conceived. This is a position that Public Culture would not want to support. How does one write the past of the present tense? How does one conceptualize the emergent, the not yet visible, the as yet unformed and perhaps ungraspable, while also problematizing it? This and other unfinished projects remain.
My gratitudes are many.
If every editor needs partnerships with vital associates and talented intellectuals, I have been blessed: initially with Arjun and with a supportive editorial collective, and in more recent years variously with Mellie, Dilip, Mike, Lauren, Ben, Manthia, Achille, Janet, and Ackbar as well as with an editorial committee that has included Michael, Roger, Claudio, Dipesh, Katie, Rolph, Xiaobing, Beth, Tom, Jackie, and Candace.
If every editor foolhardy enough to found an independent, antidisciplinary, and unendowed journal desires a critically engaged readership, I have had that. If every editor hopes for fabulous authors with whom to work, I have been especially fortunate. If every editor needs friends who encourage, I have been blessed with Toby, Barney, John, Jean, Virginia, and others. If every editor seeks an editorial office staff with humor and a fast learning curve, I have had that in abun-dance with managing editors Serena, Janelle, Lise, Rob, and Caitrin as well as with Vicky, Shreedevi, Teja, Branavan, Alyssa, Savita, Merrill, Caroline, Ora, Shao Jing, Lisa, Helen, Kaylin, and others. And finally, if every editor looks for press staff who has the style to facilitate the publication, I have been lucky with Bob, Julie, and Tess, and with Matthew, Rob, and Chris.
For his abiding support, I thank Arjun, whose work has been critical to Public Culture, and who, with patience and grace, often had to bear burdens not of his making.
We have had the satisfaction of realizing many of our founding intuitions. What more could we ask?